Fuel tanks linked to Aberdeen pollution

High MTBE levels found at convenience store

August 29, 2004|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,SUN STAFF

State officials have identified fuel tanks at a 7-Eleven convenience store in Aberdeen as at least one potential source of a gasoline additive contaminating that city's public drinking water supply.

The Maryland Department of the Environment ordered 7-Eleven Inc. in an Aug. 13 letter to perform additional groundwater and soil sampling at its store at 602 S. Philadelphia Road after "extremely high concentrations" of methyl tertiary butyl ether, or MTBE, were detected beneath the store's underground fuel tanks.

The letter was obtained Friday by The Sun from a member of the Greater Fallston Association. The community group cited the Aberdeen case as support for the community group's contention that MTBE contamination is a problem throughout Harford County.

Fallston-area residents have been complaining for weeks about the state's handling of MTBE contamination in the Upper Crossroads area.

Richard J. McIntire, an MDE spokesman, acknowledged the order to 7-Eleven and said it stems from the state's attempt to find the source of MTBE contaminating one or two of Aberdeen's municipal wells.

The city informed the state in April, McIntire said, that one of its wells was pumping water with MTBE levels of 60 to 80 parts per billion. The state investigates MTBE contamination at levels above 20 ppb, and advises private homeowners to filter their water or use bottled water when it exceeds that level.

Water from that tainted well is blended with water from other wells. In a report to municipal water customers in June, city officials said MTBE levels in the system range from zero to 18 ppb, with an average of 8.4 ppb. Aberdeen's public works department supplies 1.7 million gallons per day to the city of about 14,000 people.

Mayor Douglas S. Wilson said last night that the test results from the 7-Eleven are expected to be forwarded to the MDE by Oct. 4. After the state agency establishes the effect of any contamination on the municipality's well field, the mayor said, a course of action will be determined. Recent tests of the municipality's water showed MTBE levels at 8 ppb.

Aberdeen has one of about a dozen community drinking-water systems in Maryland that rely on groundwater that shows traces of MTBE contamination. McIntire said state officials believe contamination at the 7-Eleven stems from a leak of fuel vapors.

The station's tanks are two years old and double-walled to prevent fuel leaks, he said, adding that previous tests have not found any liquid escaping.

Margaret Chabris, a spokeswoman for 7-Eleven, said Friday that the company has tested all of its lines and tanks.

"There was one thing that we found that was very small, and we fixed that," she said. "I have a great amount of confidence that there are no leaks at the station now. And I don't know that there ever was. We've gone the extra lengths to assure this."

Chabris said 7-Eleven plans to install eight monitoring wells in the area around the tank pit to confirm that there are no leaks.

State officials also suspect vapor leaks might be at least partly responsible for contamination in the Fallston area, where residents have been complaining that the state environmental and county health departments have mishandled the problem. Greater Fallston Association officers said that their letters have not been answered; they have called for a meeting with Environment Secretary Kendl P. Philbrick and for a federal investigation.

McIntire said MDE officials plan to respond to the association, possibly this week. Responses to the letters, at least one of which was sent more than a month ago, have been delayed by the need to have the attorney general's office review the information, he said.

Sun staff writers Reginald Fields and Laura Cadiz contributed to this article.

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